If your close friend or co-worker’s parents or loved ones pass away during your stay in Korea and you don’t know what to do, then please keep reading this post. I know it can be quite an emotional experience when you attend a funeral in a foreign country. What if you make a foolish mistake and make a nuisance of yourself? Well, I will tell you about Korean funerals step by step.
Regular Korean funerals are held for three days and during those three days, it is held at the funeral parlor. Friends and families visit the deceased and comfort the families. The parlor is opened 24 hours so you can visit at any given time, but it is usually good to go for a visit at least before midnight. Especially on weekdays if you’re coming after work from out of the city, there are many people who visit after 10 p.m. Just about 10 years ago in the funeral parlor, people used to drink and play Hwa-Tu (Korean traditional card game) all night, but nowadays most of its so-called “tradition” disappeared. The reason why they used to drink all night was that they thought it was a way to provide comfort to the bereaved families. Most of the time if you’re going to the funeral it is normal to pay respect to the deceased and stay for about an hour or so, but families or close acquaintances of the deceased stay for a day or two, or all of the three days. Of course, the direct family of the deceased stays at the parlor for the length of the funeral. Children don’t attend school and adults don’t go to work. On the 3rd day, the coffin will be carried out. The body will be carried out the parlor to the site of burial. There used to be many burials before but nowadays more choose to be cremated.
When visiting as an acquaintance of the deceased, there will be a few important things that need to be known. First, when you enter the parlor, you will find a name recording book right next to the entrance. You write your name down in the book. And next to it there is a place where you can pay respect to the deceased. It is not a requirement to light incense or lay down flowers. It is your choice. If you choose to light incense, you do it with your right hand, and light 1~3 incense. With your left-hand fan the flame out. Note, do not blow the flame out with your mouth. Again with your right hand supported by your left, respectfully put the incense onto the incense burner. If you light more than one incense, it is best to put it one by one rather than all at once. If you choose to lay down the flowers, grab the stems with your right hand supported by your left and put it on the altar. The flower petals should face the photo of the deceased. Then give two bows at the photo of the deceased and have a moment of silence. If you are a Catholic, instead of two bows you can pray. Afterward, bow to the Sang-Ju (the head family of the deceased). Of course, instead of bowing, you can nod instead. You can say few words of comfort such as “I’m sorry for your loss” but it’s alright if you choose not to say anything. Hugging the head family is good but handshaking or talking in a loud voice is discourteous. This is the process of condolence. After that, take two or three steps back and turn your body around and step outside. Then you make a condolence contribution. There is no minimum or maximum amount but if you are somewhat close, it can be about 30,000 won, if you are close or very close to the deceased, it is usually around 50,000 to 100,000 won. The condolence contribution money should be enclosed in a white envelope. It is usually provided at the parlor along with a pen. You write your name on the bottom left corner of the envelope. Then you move into the dining hall and eat. It is considered a formality to eat at the parlor unless you are very busy. You don’t have to put on a sad face the whole entire time but talking loudly would be incredibly rude. If you are drinking at the dining hall, do not pour drinks to someone or clang their cups to cheer. Everyone pours their own drinks. They do not drink to anyone’s health. When you are going to the funeral parlor, it is best to wear monotones like black, white or gray. It doesn’t have to be a dress down shirt and a jacket, but try not to wear something too casual, flashy or short. For example, jeans that are not a shade of dark blue or black can be considered too casual for a funeral, so simple colored slacks would be better. Bare feet is considered rude so please wear socks or stockings. It is also best to refrain from too many accessories or makeup.
Most importantly, pay honest respect to the deceased and condole the family as best as you can. I sincerely hope that any unhappiness would not come to your acquaintances and if it does, I hope that through this information you will know exactly what to do when you are visiting the funeral parlor in Korea.